Committee searching for historical documents for bicentennial

A committee that is helping organize activities for Jennings County’s bicentennial next year is seeking historical photos and keepsakes from families to help tell the community’s story.

Jennings County officially became a county on Feb. 1, 1817.

The JC 200 committee is asking families to share their personal histories with future generations in celebration of the county’s 200th birthday.

“Family histories come together to tell the story of a community’s history,” said Sheila Kell, a genealogist at the Jennings County Public Library and a member of JC 200.

Other committee are Tom Rice, Rodger Ruddick and Tom Taylor.

The county’s celebration follows Indiana celebrating its 200th birthday as a state this year.

Kell said it is probably good that Jennings County has a separate bicentennial celebration because much of the county’s history has slipped away from documentation. Committee members hope that by concentrating on county history during 2017, the 200-year local history will be expanded and preserved.

“There are many things that we have lost track of like the history of the Quaker church in this county. That was an important part of the county’s early history and most of the records have simply disappeared,” Kell said. “Many families here now are descendants of that early Quaker history and they don’t even know it.”

Sometimes an old photo, a journal or official document such as a marriage certificate can help re-create the history of an entire era in the community, she added.

“You don’t have to know all the details behind every photograph or document. If you just have a name or a date behind a photograph, that can help a lot to get things started and we will do the research,” Kell said.

Holding an old photograph of a group of men taken in the 1930s, Kell explained how family memorabilia can help rebuild the county’s history. It was a photo someone’s grandfather had saved but no one knew what it was about. Noticing an insignia within the photograph, Kell determined the photo had something to do with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Further research discovered there was once a large Civil Conservation Corps camp operating out of Jennings County.

“That was something few people knew anything about but now we are collecting the records and preserving the story,” Kell said.

Each of the 11 Jennings County’s townships will participate in researching their histories and will give a report of their progress throughout the year. Other groups will participate in capturing county history, including the Jennings County Historical Society and the Hayden Historical Museum.

Because many extended families gather during the holiday season, Kell hopes discussions of family history will awaken memories of old photographs and documents hidden away in keepsake boxes and closets.

“If you have an item that can be a clue to Jennings County history, bring it to me at the library and we will pass it along,” she said.